New year, new rights
Today is not only the first day of the year 2014, but also the day that enables people from Bulgaria and Romania to travel and work freely in other EU countries. Lots of energy has been wasted on speculating what effects this would have on the well-developed economies. Ironic publications were written; verbal fights took place. Yet, reading a report that said how the increased number of emigrants from these countries has contributed to the German economy convinced me that not everything is as gloomy as people describe it. There are fears that the integration of all new people won’t happen or that they will travel to take social benefits. While there may be some people who really do so, the majority will probably choose to work and contribute to the economy, where they have the chance to receive much more than cents and have a better life, in which case the net effect would be positive. Some discomfort is necessary on all sides if they want to become better. An important question is how do we differentiate between the people who try to game the system and those who still haven’t arrived? As long as we place everyone under a common denominator, we automatically make many people criminals. When they see upfront the injustice they are treated with, the chance that they will choose to travel to this country becomes miniscule. When someone treats you as a second-class citizen upfront, normal communication is no longer possible. A big international company wouldn’t allow a big reputational hit without involving its lawyers and seeking legal justice. But somehow, hammering on the reputation of the weak and poor is still seen as acceptable. In fact, these people may be exactly in this position, because they are treated and socially isolated in this way.
That immigrants arrive all at once is an exaggeration. Not only do they arrive at different times, but their opportunities may be different by the time they arrive. The first people may enjoy a lot more options than newcomers. That the last group can’t integrate well in the market doesn’t automatically make them bad people, ready to be sent home (an idea I heard of lately). It may be a sign that previous people, who may not be necessary better, are doing everything to keep their positions while no new jobs are created. When all market gaps are filled (saturation), which tends to happen over time, newcomers may quickly lose more than they hope to gain. This saturation partially explains why there are so many young people without jobs in the EU. The crossroads of interest run so deep, that we can’t even imagine. In countries with lots of competition, the sight isn’t pretty.
Then, what would equality of opportunity mean, when you may be artificially kept away from the pie for too long until most of it is gone, before declaring that you are allowed to find a crumb and take it. This isn’t the behavior I want to see in my Europe. The first quality of a good union is unconditional justice with no upfront preference for race, gender or origin. Otherwise, it is better to not participate in it.
Emigration helps to grow already strong economies, but also to weaken already weak ones. The cost of this can already be seen in Europe in the form of desolate land and people, who abandon their homes and relatives in an attempt to survive. If we pretend that we can ignore this problem, it is only going to grow large-scale and cause unseen social unrest. Emigration further helps to concentrate the resources in the hands of the few, which is supported legally within the union. Then we should not wonder that the number of countries in need of financial injections has grown to new heights. A union can’t overrely on few top economies, throwing money while trying to solve the problems of the many. Huge imbalances can collapse any system, even the EU.
If we take a naïve, isolated case in which a person in a richer country is trying to send money to a person in a poorer country, but the last one has already chosen to emigrate, then what would happen with this money? It will either remain unused or that person may bring it back to a richer (or the same) country (assuming no other people are involved). In this case, the money didn’t help the poorer country and it helped the poor person only insignificantly since now it needs to be spent where it has a lower purchasing power. This shows that the true capital of a country are its people, and with no good people, there will be no good use of the money. Just as an experiment, ask a person next to you how much money they want in order to live permanently in some very poor country of your choice. The answer might surprise you, but it may be a good indicator of how risky this decision is perceived to be. Interesting remains to see an explanation why some EU countries attracted young students, while setting barriers for qualified workers. If people are the true capital, these countries were getting the brightest, most motivated and most innovating to contribute to the economy while they still can’t extract too much from it (work only 90 days in the year, please!), while keeping away the qualified people who will largely take. The students were allowed to have the expenses that would be equal or higher to those of their parents in the same situation, but they couldn’t earn as much as their parents could earn in the same situation. This is a skilful method of extraction and the fact that it happened in central Europe explains why some economies do much better than others. In my Europe, there is no place for such favoritism. I am still surprised to see that immigrants are viewed as money-making machines in terms of how much they bring to the economy. Since they are torn between two countries, being happy that they can’t take the full amount of a pension or will have only a restricted access to public services is everything else but civilized. This shows that we may have not grown enough yet to deserve our union. We prefer it only as long as we take more than we give. If you know how to make a well-working union, consisting of many long-term takers, please share it.
I make myself no illusion that opening a market could change the situation. The reason is that a country is mainly its people and they can’t be expected to change their opinions and behaviors overnight. In words we may say many things, in documents we can write anything, but the only thing that matters is how we feel about something deep inside ourselves in our daily interaction. If we are seen as invaders, trying to steal things; as lazy or incapable, working unproductively; as stupid, having visited the second-class university; as too different, wearing a different clothing line, then it may not be the best use of our time and energy to try to convince people otherwise. If they feel the need to talk to us, they are welcome. But borders alone won’t be the deciding factor for buying a ticket.
If you ask me, I would say that opening the markets for the workers from East Europe comes 7 years late. This is because it is hard to prepare for something we disallow or something that we aren’t ready to experience. Yes, there might have been more problems, but postponing them until now, didn’t allow us to gather the information needed to overcome them and move forward. This is something that will probably happen in the next years. We have seen that making the EU more unstable actually strenghtens it once the impulse for positive change is found.
Although the EU has shown some scratches, I think that the idea behind it is still correct and will always be correct as a pillar of piece in Europe. If something could be broken, it is in the direction this idea is executed. The more countries are connected to it, the more important it becomes to execute it right. Wrong execution can cancel previous progress, leading to problems for many of the participating countries. I see the ultimate goal as having one big World Union, where the individual names of the smaller unions will be second-nature. Exclusion of anyone because of purely economical or other reasons is something that we should actively fight against. A union can be valid only when it includes everyone without exceptions.
For me, the main advantage of the EU is the connectivity it allows—not only between institutions, but also between people of different countries. This is more than cultural exchange; it is about letting others know that you care about them and that you are open to collaborate on all kinds of interesting projects. In a sense, such collaboration opens almost endless possibilities and it wouldn’t have been possible if people didn’t have the chance to meet, talk and discuss directions. Connections can motivate many once they identify the touchpoints of their expertise. Some unique projects can be born this way that aren’t necessarily backed by the big corporations and shaped by their internal processes. We never know what kind of companies can be born out of this. Since having such examples here is more rare than in USA, EU institutions could seek ways to announce random short-term hotspots for people gatherings (say 1room-1hour-whoever comes) in an attempt to improve collaboration and innovation. If people meet mostly at cafes/restaurants, in closed circles or at paid events, they will rarely see their views challenged by unknown people. Access to human faces shouldn’t depend on an entrance ticket, yet somehow we still continue to allow commerce to separate us and to diminish our human side.
Something else that could improve entrepreneurship in Europe is having a robust way to make digital payments that works as expected. Every time we have to send payments through providers outside the EU, we are effectively exporting our growth. Not to mention that payments become subject to foreign regulations and the uncertainty this brings. Making digital payments easy is very much needed, especially midst the crisis. The inability to monetize ideas is what stops many people from working on them. This means big losses for the EU for every second we don’t have this system. Instead, we are saving the banks, which is likely to make the small person even more distrustful. It knows that a good company is good everywhere, so it won’t feel attached to a particular location, but at the same time it will avoid obsoleting its previous knowledge by doing something entirely unrelated, even at a place where it is welcome. With good entrepreneurial networks, the inclination to emigrate among young people can be lowered, and the local communities sustained instead of dissolved. The alternative is to allow dominating countries to constantly advertise how prosperous Europe is until everyone else is muted.